We began observing Lent as a family just a few years ago, having grown up in an evangelical background that didn’t acknowledge much of the liturgical calendar. Though we don’t want to get all religious/legalistic about it, there is value in celebrating along with the universal and historical church.
In the past I would thoughtlessly give up a few of my favorite vices: TV, chocolate, Facebook, and Girl Scout cookies. (Does anyone else think it’s odd that they come out during Lent each year?) But I have recently felt encouraged to make Lent about more than just my trendy, superficial sacrifices.
Instead of giving up chocolate for Lent this year, we’re using it as a teaching tool with the kids.
I first got the idea a few years ago from the Jelly Bean Jar, but didn’t want to have to put to memory all the different meanings of the colors. (Two words: Mommy Brain). I am also bummed that the collective church isn’t too concerned about the irony of teaching children about Jesus using lots of sugar and artificial food.
So my simpler and healthier (antioxidants! protein!) version involves dark chocolate almonds representing good deeds that the kids do for others and white yogurt covered almonds representing God’s grace – anything we have that we don’t deserve but has been given to us as a gift.
The goal is to fill the center jar by Easter, but the parental trick is to make the task impossible and fill it up with God’s grace on Easter morning. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
I let the kids eat one of each as we set it up, but then we wait to eat the rest (and share with our friends at church) until Easter morning. This represents how many people had been longing for the Messiah and how we now eagerly await His return! Never underestimate what kids are able to understand spiritually…
I’ve also learned over the years to establish a few very necessary rules:
1) You cannot suggest putting a chocolate almond in for yourself, in order to encourage affirming each other and discourage self-congratulations. “Mommy, look what I did! Can I put in a chocolate almond?” For 40 days straight. Ask me how I know.
2) You can also have dark chocolate almonds taken away for poor choices or disobedience. Though it’s an opportunity to remind them of why we all need a savior, I try not to overplay this one too much.
3) The “grace almonds” are a free for all! Sometimes my kids will get a few in a row as they start listing off things they are grateful for that God has provided: His new mercies every morning, the food on our table, our friends and family, Christ’s death covering our sins, etc. And sometimes I get to put one or two in as a symbol of second chances when we’ve started the morning off on a bad note or forgiveness for mommy who just lost it. Which never happens. Sometimes.
Overall, it has been a great learning opportunity for our kids (and me!) and they’ve already made some great spiritual connections.
I’ve seen my play-oriented son who sometimes struggles with a good attitude toward work, offer to make my bed and start & complete a chore without complaining or being told to do it! I thanked him for being such a blessing and he was beaming. This is progress, people.
And I still remember my four-year old daughter walking down the stairs on Easter morning, pointing to the jar filled to the top with white and yelling excitedly, “God’s grace!”
May all of us know, receive, and give away that grace more deeply this season.
And it wouldn’t be a Shesourceful blog post without a gazillion links to tons of creative ways other folks are observing the Lenten season:
And a simple, rustic remake of a beautiful old hymn, Go To Dark Gethsemane.
So how do you observe Lent?
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